April 29, 2015

BYRNE | Learning My Lines

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The summer before I started middle school, my best friend moved to Florida. When the “For Sale” sign first appeared in the yard, we knew things were getting serious, and started our plot to get them to stay. Unfortunately, our mastermind plan was to uproot the sign from the lawn and stash it in the basement, next to the family computer, where it was (almost immediately) found. When this measure failed, we promised to refuse to tidy up around the house when the realtor was showing it, yelling loudly in adjacent rooms that “this house stinks” and “who would want to live here?!” In the end though, it was all for naught. The moving trucks came. Boxes were packed and loaded with all the essentials.

My best friend duct-taped her life into cardboard cubes. I was the only thing that didn’t fit in the boxes, the only thing left behind. And then, she was gone.

And then, I was in sixth grade, the first year at a new school. The lockers were impossible to open unless you spoke Parseltongue; the teachers expected you to have a binder for each class, with tabs down the spine labeled “homework” and “classwork;” everything fit neatly into one or the other. When I came home from school on my first day, I was no longer able to run across my yard, splash through the creek, and tiptoe across a splintery deck to arrive at her door.

I had always been a good student, but from then on, I became even more deeply invested in school. Most of my friends were now new people I had met at school. I assumed, wrongly, that by excelling in school I would be able to make more friends more quickly. It was okay with me, though, because there was an end goal: college admissions. Getting into a good college would mean a life of happiness, academic and personal success. Everything I did was geared towards my future university, consciously or subconsciously.

Then, I got to Cornell, and it was just as I had always dreamed. Sure, it was difficult, but I had been prepared for that. Everyone here was like me. They cared about things, they openly enjoyed reading books and, most importantly, they liked other smart people. I found people I liked, through hobbies, academics and most importantly theatre.

If your mind works anything like mine, you search for the red exit signs the minute you enter a room. You jump every time an alarm clock goes off, because it’s telling you to get up, get a move on, get out of here. On first dates, you imagine grandchildren. I came to Cornell pre-med, imagining the next step was medical school, then internship, etc. As it turns out, there were some unexpected intermediate steps, and it has been a pleasure and a joy to slow down and enjoy them.

There is a transition period, when a play has been in rehearsals for a while, where the lines have left the script behind and stumbled onto the stage, but haven’t yet found their footing inside of the actors’ mouths. The actors blunder through the words as best they can, and if they get completely off-track, they call out, “Line!” Then I, the stage manager, tell them exactly what to say. This has trained me to remember their lines, which I also consider my lines, so that I can provide them with the correct phrase at the correct moment as quickly as possible. I know my lines.

I used to think my place was in academia, and in a sense, it has been. But for the first time in my life, I feel a sense of belonging outside of my GPA and test scores. For the past four years, my nights have been spent lying on theater floors until the sun comes up, hanging lights and ordering pizza, listening to the Next to Normal soundtrack. I fill my life with musical underscores and painted faces and purple lighting.

In the coming weeks, as I duct tape all of my own things into cardboard boxes, a part of Cornell will fit into those boxes. A part of freshman orientation memories, a part of pre-med all nighters, a part of dress rehearsals, a part of my personality, a part of me. I belong here, but as I prepare to leave, Cornell also belongs to me.

And so, goodbye.